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What Is a Security Operations Center and Why You Need it

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Posted July 7, 2019

Cyber attacks continue to hit organizations of all sizes and cause problems ranging from costly system downtime to data breaches costing millions of dollars in compensation. A recent 2019 industry report found that 61 percent of businesses experienced one or more cyber attack during 2018.

Image credit: UMD-Eskin, Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Protecting sensitive data and critical systems from the onslaught of cyber attacks is becoming an increasingly complex task. Organizations need new approaches that help effectively defend against the range of sophisticated attacks that cybercriminals use.

One approach to strengthen cybersecurity defenses is to establish a security operations center. In this article, you will find out what a security operations center is, why you need one, and some tips for setting up and managing one.

What Is a Security Operations Center?

A security operations center (SOC) is a centralized unit composed of an organized and expert IT security team that monitors and analyzes an organization’s security posture and operations.

Some of the important functions of SOCs are:

Proactive Monitoring 

By detecting systems anomalies and suspicious activity using behavior-based tools and threat intelligence, the SOC can proactively monitor and mitigate cyber attacks before they cause damage.

Alert Prioritization

The SOC needs to accurately prioritize and categorize the alerts generated from the tools they use. The severity of the incident impacts the urgency with which the SOC team needs to respond.

Log Data Analysis

Log management and analysis is an important part of what SOCs do. This log data can provide clues about impending attacks but it also enables forensic analysis of any breaches that do occur.

Exabeam’s useful guide on SOCs reviews some security operations center challenges and best practices.

Why You Need a Security Operations Center

Robust cybersecurity defenses are imperative in the current threat landscape. SOCs bring expertise and focus solely on the aim of protecting systems and data from cyber attacks. Here are some of the reasons you need a SOC:

    • Continuous monitoring—there is no let up when it comes to cybercrime, and continuous monitoring is essential if you want adequate protection of IT infrastructure and data. SOC teams work in shifts to ensure your organization is always protected.
    • Centralized overview—the technology used in a SOC gives an overview of the entire network and potential attack vectors. Furthermore, information is stored and shared centrally among team members to ensure everyone is on the same page.
    • Reduced cybersecurity costs—it might require an expensive initial investment to set up the SOC, especially if you opt for an in-house team. However, SOCs save money in the long-run by reducing the potential for costly data breaches and system downtime.
    • Better collaboration—instead of having security experts spread out into different siloed departments and locations, the SOC unifies everyone in one location to promote improved collaboration and coordination.

Building a Security Operations Center

There are five crucial aspects if you want to build a SOC:

Service Model

Organizations can choose between setting up a dedicated in-house SOC or an outsourced SOC. An outsourced SOC is an attractive option for smaller businesses and organizations because it is much less capital-intensive and it is easier to avail of the necessary security expertise from a service provider.

An in-house SOC is best for larger enterprises for which data integrity and compliance are primary concerns. Furthermore, large enterprises are likely to have the capital and the expertise on-hand to build their own in-house SOC.

Location

The location is a centralized point from which IT systems like applications, databases, data centers and servers, networks, and endpoints can be monitored and defended against cyber attacks. The SOC can be located on-premise or off-site depending on whether you hire a team internally or outsource SOC as a service.

Technology

Various security tools and technologies such as SIEM, vulnerability scanners, endpoint protection solutions, and intrusion detection systems enable the monitoring, analysis, and defense of IT infrastructure in the SOC.

People

A successful SOC needs an organized team of IT security specialists in areas like alert monitoring, current cyber threats, incident escalation, and relevant industry or government regulations (e.g. HIPAA, GDPR). Setting up an in-house SOC might mean hiring some expertise from outside the company to plug any gaps in these areas.

Processes

When building a SOC, it’s crucial to define consistent and repeatable processes that standardize how the SOC team triages and investigates cybersecurity incidents. The NIST Computer Security Incident Handling Guide provides a useful framework from which you can identify some of the necessary processes in your SOC.

SOC Management

Typically, the successful management of a SOC requires the following type of hierarchy:

SOC manager 

The manager reports to a C-level executive such as the CIO or CISO. The manager takes care of SOC resources, personnel, budgets, and communicated the overall strategy and direction to SOC team members.

Subject Matter Expert

Security professionals who have in-depth knowledge of network security, threat intelligence, system anomalies, and data analysis.

Incident Responders

Team members who correlate data from different technologies and tools to determine the severity of incidents and advise on how to remediate them.

Alert Analyst

The alert analyst monitors alert queues and the security of network endpoints. Alert analysts should be well-versed in accurately prioritizing security system alerts and using SIEM tools.

Using this type of management structure, a SOC works together as a cohesive unit to deal with cybersecurity incidents promptly and improve cybersecurity defenses to prevent the future recurrence of incidents.

Conclusion

A Security Operations Center takes a holistic approach to information security. Such an approach is necessary in a world where cyber attacks inundate organizations of all sizes each day using increasingly diverse attack vectors.

The SOC manager needs leadership, motivation skills, and expert IT security knowledge to run an excellent team. Team members need to understand their roles and responsibilities. Successfully building and managing and SOC depends on people, processes, and next-generation tools.

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